by Jeannette Hopkins, Class of 1944
I write to report a story told to me by my mother, Gladys Hull Hopkins, Class of 1913. It is part of family lore that Matthew Vassar had invited one of our family to join him as a partner in his brewery, and that our ancestor, a Nathaniel Moulthrop, had declined that invitation on the grounds that he did not want his three sons to drink. He was my great-great-great-grandfather.
We have no written records to confirm this story. However, in my extensive work on my family’s genealogy, I have found that stories passed down orally were usually true. We do have a reference to Vassar in a letter from Nathaniel William Moulthrop (born 1840), my mother’s maternal grandfather, the son of Nathaniel Moulthrop Jr. (born 1813), and the grandson of Nathaniel Moulthrop Sr. (born 1778). It was written in February 1909 to my aunt, Ethel Merle Hull, Class of 1912. She was then at Vassar, and the letter referred to a visit Nathaniel William made to the campus to watch the construction of the college. It had to have been in the early 1860s since construction began in 1861.
Nathaniel Moulthrop Sr. was a descendant of Matthew Moulthrop Sr., one of the original settlers of the colony of New Haven in 1639. Nathaniel was the son of Jude Moulthrop, who went up the Connecticut River valley from New Haven to become one of the first settlers of Rutland, Vermont. Nathaniel left home just before or soon after his father’s death in 1800 and went to sea, becoming an ocean-going ship captain out of New York. He moved to Poughkeepsie in 1808, was captured during the War of 1812, and imprisoned until the end of the war. He lived in or near Poughkeepsie for the rest of his life thereafter.
When Nathaniel would have met Matthew Vassar, fourteen years his junior, I do not know. Shipping was closely connected to the brewery business, however, with sloops regularly carrying kegs of beer to the New York metropolis. Matthew’s brewery – successor to his father’s – went through at least two partnerships between 1813 and 1829, when two of his nephews joined the firm.
I originally thought that the man we believed Matthew Vassar invited to join him as a partner in the brewery was my great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel Moulthrop Jr., born in 1813. Nathaniel Jr. had three sons, befitting the family lore. But the dates are too late – they were not born until 1837, 1840 (Nathaniel William), and 1844.
During the likely period when Matthew Vassar would have been looking for partners, Nathaniel Sr. had three sons, born in 1805, 1813 (Nathaniel Jr.), and 1817. (Two others would follow in 1822 and 1827, but would not have been in the picture yet.) Thus I concluded that it was Nathaniel Moulthrop Sr. (1778) who, in order to save his three sons from beer, turned down Matthew Vassar’s proposal. (Evalyn Clark’s history classes guided my hand in my genealogical research!)
Incidentally, Vassar College bought its maple syrup – at least during the 1910s, when my mother and aunt were both at Vassar – from our family farm in Jewett, Greene County, settled in the 1780s by their paternal ancestor, Chester Hull, after his service in the American Revolutionary War.